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Barbara Lee, Published August 18 2012

Berg using gender-based attacks against opponent Heidi Heitkamp

U.S. Senate candidate and Congressman Rick Berg’s newest ad is a typical attack on female candidates by their male opponents (using women, in this instance, to attack Heidi Heitkamp). It fails to mention his policy stances, priorities or potential to lead. Instead, the ad attempts to demean Heitkamp’s integrity – a strategy we’ve seen men repeatedly use against women.

The TV spot depicts four older women sitting in a diner, attacking Heitkamp’s character. The ad is a clear example of a larger, well-worn strategy men use against female opponents to try to undercut a long-held advantage for women candidates: their integrity.

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s research on women running for executive office shows that voters give women an advantage on honesty and ethics over their male counterparts. Female candidates have held this advantage in our gubernatorial research over the past decade. Knowing this, male opponents try to knock women off their political pedestals by launching negative attacks on their trustworthiness and honesty early in the campaign. Berg is no exception.

Instead of using attacks based on gender, let’s focus on the candidates’ records instead.


Lee is founder and president, Barbara Lee Family Foundation, Cambridge, Mass.